Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Altruism Is Good For YOU

Gordon Gecko may have said "greed is good," but from a physiological and well-being perspective, altruism is better. The Institute of HeartMath reports that "when we act in other people's behalf, we feel better, more secure and experience less stress."

When we are helping others from a place of care, compassion and pure intent, both our brain and heart produce oxytocin, the love or bonding hormone. Heart cells as well as brain cells produce "feel good chemicals"including dopamine and endorphins. Only genuine intent creates this hormonal benefit.

An article on altruism prepared by the Institute of HeartMath cites research that shows:

* altruistic people are healthier and live longer
* older people who are helpful to others reduce their risk of dying by nearly 60% compared to peers who provide neither practical help nor emotional support to relatives, neighbors or friends
* altruism promotes enhanced meaning and purpose, and the presence of positive emotions such as kindness that displaces harmful negative emotional states

When we can shift our focus to what we have to give, instead of what we have to get or take, what follows actually helps US. Is it paradoxical that in giving, we receive more than if we had only focused on our selfish self-interest? Perhaps this shows the difference in scope between the ego and the heart. Because the heart operates from a place of connection and interconnectedness, it understands the flow of life. When we operate from ego, fear or scarcity, we can disconnect from this very flow.

Hearts know how to balance self-care and care for others. When we use our intellects with the balancing perspective of the heart, we can operate from a sense of duty or obligation, when can lack pure heartfelt intent. Using our heart's wisdom and guidance is key to keep ourselves in the circulating flow of giving and receiving, rather than burning out from giving in a disconnected state.

Living From the Heart Workshop

On Friday, May 20, I will be giving a workshop on Living From the Heart at the home of Margaret Arndt and David Sneickus in Newton, MA.


Our hearts thrive when our lives are "coherent," meaning we have a sense that life is purposeful, manageable and meaningful. This approach to living makes us happier and healthier in all ways. The messages we receive from the culture, however, do not often invite us to go inward and listen to our hearts. Instead, we are told to do more, go faster and keep going...skipping over the critical messages our hearts and bodies give us moment to moment and over time about the things we really need.

In this evening workshop, you will have a chance to slow down, bring your focus inwards and listen to your own heart. We will explore some of our basic human needs (beyond food, shelter and clothing...like being welcome in the world, not having to do it all alone, and having emotional and spiritual connection), and how to bring more of what really matters into our lives. We will do meditation, experiential exercises and partnered sharings drawing from EKP body psychotherapy to nourish and honor our hearts.

Linda Marks, MSM, has practiced body psychotherapy with individuals, couples, families and groupsfor 26 years. EKP (Emotional-Kinesthetic Psychotherapy), a heart-centered, psychospiritual body psychotherapy method is her contribution to the field. Linda has presented nationally and internationally, published two books and hundreds of articles, taught at universities and professional conferences and has appeared on radio and television. She also practice coaching and mediation. Her website is www.healingheartpower.com.

For more information, contact msarndt@verizon.net

Friday, April 1, 2011

Being A Face to Face Person In An Increasingly Virtual World

When I started my psychotherapy practice in 1985, the world was dramatically different than today. There was no internet. There were no cell phones. There was no e-mail. There were no texts. All media--books, newspapers and magazines, were physical and in-print, not on-line. And if I wanted to have a conversation with someone, there were two options: face to face and on the phone.

In many ways, things were much simpler back then. When my first book, Living With Vision: Reclaiming the Power of the Heart, was published in 1988, I threw a big book launch party at a Boston area nightclub to bring people together to celebrate in community. If I were to publish a new book tomorrow, I would set up a Facebook fan page for the book, organize a party on Meetup.com, send out an event announcement using Constant Contact, post announcements on LinkedIn and on my regular Facebook page, and tweet updates as often as possible to let people know.

As a writer and psychotherapist, I feel the changes from our old face to face based relating culture to our modern technology based more virtual culture. As a person, I feel the changes even more strongly, and watch the changes color the landscape of others' lives.

People of all ages can spend hours chatting with "friends" on Facebook, without ever leaving the comfort of their living room. They can "talk" while dressed in their pajamas and never utter a spoken word. Committees can meeting using a free internet conference calling service, and never need a face to face meeting to get their work done. Teens or older adults can communicate daily with their loved ones through texts and e-mails, forgetting or perhaps never learning that some topics are best discussed in person and not in a virtual medium.

At its best, virtual communication allows us to feel connected easily, quickly and without much logistical work to be at a certain place at a certain time. At its worst, virtual communication leaves us feeling isolated, connected but alone, missing the special meaning of a look on someone's face, a gleam in the eye, or the warm, nurturing feeling of a hug or caress. Some experiences translate into virtual moments. Others simply do not.

In late March, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the increase of teenage depression with Facebook use. On the one hand, many teens feel a wider social network than kids in their actual classes at school through their connection of Facebook friends. On the other hand, they may feel lonely and disconnected, because all of their communications take place when they are by themselves with only a computer as their companion. If they try to arrange a time to "hang out," they may find their phone call unanswered, or their plan forgotten as their friend gets lost in a sea of cyberconversations or video games, while time marches on. Facebook allows people to post photos that create an image of life as wonderful and fun, even if real life is not nearly so grand. And people create "avatar-like" personas, never needing to do equal work to develop their inner personas.

No matter how many virtual tools we develop to stay "in touch," communicate quickly, efficiently and replace the need for a meeting real-time, if we go too far on the virtual side of the human-technology continuum, a part of our spirit gets lost. If you are sad, does it not feel better to look into the eyes of an understanding friend? If you are scared, can a text replace a hug? Can a kiss be replaced by an e-mail saying "I love you?" Our human senses make life richer and more meaningful. WHh lose them in our relating with others?

While I can talk to someone on the phone and counsel them on Skype, I cannot reach out and touch them, or bring the full energy of my heart to them when we are so far away. Some part of relating simply cannot be whole when done at a distance. To "be with" someone, really means being with them.

Just like the experiments with the clothand wire monkeys in my freshman psychology class, there are lessons about the emotional and spiritual cost of a more virtual and less tactile existence. Technology can help us share our words, ideas and thoughts, but to physically feel another's presence, hold another's hand, and feel the beat of another person's heart in a mutual embrace introduces a much deeper, essential dimension of human experience into our lives. May we never forget the important of being face to face people in our increasingly virtual world.